9 Bar Mitzvah lessons
Tips on a lucrative, underappreciated niche
Traveling around the country speaking about and teaching photography, I always note the lack of bar/bat mitzvah photographers I meet. I didn’t set out to be bar/bat mitzvah photographer myself. I’m a wedding photographer who was asked to do a bar mitzvah and immediately discovered that this is an event photography specialty that’s overlooked. Now I book as many as I can and you should, too. Here’s why.
1. The money is good. I’m listing this first for a reason. From the day a Jewish child is born, the parents know they’ll be hosting a bar/bat mitzvah. They plan for it; they save for it. Unlike a wedding, where the client is often a couple in their 20s saddled with student debt and saving for their first home, a bar/bat mitzvah is funded by clients who are often two professionals in their prime earning years. It’s not uncommon to find that Dad’s a lawyer and Mom’s a doctor, and they’ve known this party was coming for 13 years. They’re not DIY clients; they want it done for them and they’re ready to pay for it.
2. Clients invest in add-ons. I actually charge less upfront for a bar/bat mitzvah than for a wedding simply because I know the add-ons will boost the rate accordingly. For example, after seeing photo booths at a couple of events, I built my own. Now it’s the rare bar/bat mitzvah client who doesn’t book the photo booth. Many clients also invest in custom sessions that produce a photo guest book, save-the-date magnets, a custom sign-in board, or custom invitations. Ninety-five percent order a custom leather album. My per-client average is higher for bar/bat mitzvahs than it is for weddings.
3. Getting referrals is a cinch. This is, without a doubt, the best thing about photographing bar/bat mitzvahs. The moms talk to each other, and everyone goes to everyone else’s party. Every bar/bat mitzvah I shoot produces at least one referral client. Anytime you shoot a bar/bat mitzvah you know there are guests at that party who will need a photographer soon.
4. Repeat business is a given. If you shoot a bar mitzvah for a boy who has a younger brother, you’ll most likely be photographing that brother in a couple of years. The family wants consistency and they want the second one to be easy, so they prefer to hire the same vendors as long as those vendors performed well. Have you ever had a wedding client come pick up their album and ask you if they can put down a deposit for the next
wedding? Of course not. But that happens all the time with bar/bat mitzvahs. If you book the oldest of three children, you’ve just booked three events. Plus, you’ll probably get another referral from one of the mom’s friends who also has multiple children. Add to that family portraits, holiday cards, and senior portraits.
If you’re already shooting weddings, there are some things you’ll want to consider when shooting bar/bat mitzvahs.
5. It’s not just about the kid. In the wedding business we have a saying: Make the bride look good. No matter what, if you make the bride look good, you’ll be OK. The difference with bar/bat mitzvahs is that it’s the mother of the child you need to please. Sure, you want to get great images of the child, but I spend just as much time worrying about the parents. Half the guests at the party are kids your celebrant may not even be friends with a year from now. The other half are adults who are either directly related to the parents or work with them. Be sure you get quality coverage of all the adults. Check in with the parents often to make sure they’re happy. It took me a few times to realize that this party is about the parents, too. Getting shots of all the kids from Hebrew class is good, but be sure to photograph Dad with his boss, and Mom with her sorority sisters. It’s not unusual for the album to have as many pictures of Mom as her son or daughter.
6. Customer service is extra important. As I said before, one bar/bat mitzvah can lead to many more. Typically both parents work full time, so the easier you make the sales and album design process, the more they’ll love you. I’ve had families take years—that’s right, years—to finish the album design. Why do I allow them to take so long? Because they’re more likely to recommend “that photographer who was so patient with us.” (Also, I once had a mom tell me that waiting a year or more for her daughter to pick images meant fewer “temporary friends” in the album.)
7. Bring your best game. Don’t assume photographing a bar/bat mitzvah will be easier than photographing a wedding. If you want to build a reputation in the community, give your clients something outstanding. Explore new ways to showcase the children. When Mom shows her album to a friend, that friend needs to see something unique and above the norm. I built my entire business from just one bar mitzvah. I photographed that boy like he was a groom, and the next mom who hired me said she’d selected me because my images stood out from the pack. Bar/bat mitzvahs are not a step down from weddings. Work
just as hard and you’ll be rewarded with plenty of clients, all via word of mouth.
8. Network with vendors. I can go a whole year and never see the same wedding DJ twice, but I see the same bar/bat mitzvah DJ about 10 times a year. It’s much harder to be a bar/bat mitzvah DJ than a wedding DJ, so there are fewer of them. Just like the photographer, when the DJ builds a good reputation he acquires a lot of work. You want to be the photographer he mentions when asked for suggestions—because he will get asked (and so will you). These parents want guidance, and they look to the seasoned professionals for help.
9. Have a plan. As I mentioned before, these moms are busy and they want help. When I meet with a potential client, I ask what synagogue they belong to. Then I tell them exactly how everything will go—the date and time for pictures, what types of pictures will be captured, which family members need to be present at what time, etc. Once they realize I know more about the process than they do, they relax because they know I don’t have to be managed. This almost always secures the booking. If they like your work, you come recommended, and you have everything under control, they feel good about working with you. You can see the relief on their faces when they realize they can check the photography off their list.
Booray Perry owns Booray Perry Photography in Tampa, Florida.